Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights expresses its deep concern at the recent crackdown on protests in Zimbabwe. We urgently join the calls by Zimbabwean civil society for the authorities to refrain from further violence, immediately release and cease prosecutions of those who have been arbitrarily detained, and commit to maintaining open access to the Internet and social media.
Protests have been ongoing in Zimbabwe since January 14, 2019, when they were sparked by President Mnangagwa’s decision to sharply increase fuel prices by 150% even as the country is in the midst of a serious economic crisis. The Government of Zimbabwe responded to these protests by blocking Internet access and deploying police and the military to quash protests through force, including by firing live ammunition at demonstrators. At least 12 individuals have reportedly been killed, and dozens more have sustained gunshot wounds and other injuries. Hundreds of people – including protesters, civil society activists and their relatives, and other civilians – have been detained in the context of protests and unlawful dragnet searches that followed. Many have also been reportedly subjected to torture, rape, and other inhumane and degrading treatment.
The Zimbabwean Government’s excessive and lethal use of force in response to these protests runs counter to Zimbabwe’s international responsibility to respect the right to life, protected by Article 4 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), as well as the rights to peaceful expression, assembly, and association, as enshrined in Articles 9, 10, and 11 of the African Charter and Articles 19, 21, and 22 of the ICCPR. It also runs contrary to the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, which require governments to refrain from using excessive force and instead abide strictly by the principles of legality, necessity, proportionality, precaution, and accountability in all policing operations.
On January 21, the High Court in Zimbabwe ruled against the Government’s directives to block access to the Internet and social media, finding the directives to be unlawful and therefore without effect. The Government’s decision to block Internet access was in violation of Zimbabwe’s international obligations to ensure freedom of expression and access to information under Article 9 of the African Charter and Article 19 of the ICCPR. As independent Zimbabwean human rights groups have noted, it was also a violation of fundamental rights protected under sections 61 and 62 of Zimbabwe’s Constitution.
Many Zimbabweans hoped that their country would see democratic reform when the 37-year rule of President Mugabe came to an end in 2017. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights joins Zimbabwean human rights groups in denouncing the Zimbabwean Government’s use of violence and intimidation, unlawful searches and arrests, and blocking of information to quell opposition. The Zimbabwean authorities’ expressed intent to continue ruling through such repressive means is wholly incompatible with democratic governance, human rights, and the rule of law.